DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
29 April 2004
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Guest at Noon
Miloon Kothari, the Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, is joining us today to brief you on his recent missions to Afghanistan, Kenya, the occupied Palestinian territory and Peru.
The Security Council this morning unanimously adopted a resolution on the situation concerning Western Sahara.
In it, members reaffirmed their support for the Peace Plan for Self-Determination of the People of Western Sahara as an optimum political solution on the basis of agreement between the two parties, and decided to extend the Mission's mandate by six months.
The Council then met on the situation in Georgia. Members heard from Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania. Then in closed consultations, Hedi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed members on the recent report on Georgia.
Cyprus is also on the agenda of the consultations, and a press statement was just read out, noting the outcome of the referenda and expressing the Council’s respect for both results. They said they share the Secretary-General’s disappointment that an extraordinary and historic opportunity has been missed.
Yesterday, the Council unanimously passed a resolution on weapons of mass destruction.
The Council decided that all States shall refrain from providing any form of support to non-State actors that attempt to acquire or use such weapons, and that they shall adopt and enforce appropriate and effective laws to achieve that goal, in accordance with their national procedures.
**DR Congo - OCHA Calls for Assistance to Victims of Sexual Abuse
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is reporting that many of the Congolese diamond workers and their families expelled in recent weeks from Angola have been subjected to sexual abuse and are in need of urgent medical attention.
Following a monitoring mission to south-western Democratic Republic of the Congo to assess the conditions faced by over 60,000 expelled Congolese, OCHA is making an urgent call for the financing of assistance programmes to address the results of sexual violence and the prevention of HIV/AIDS. We have more on that in a press release.
Two UN missions, one looking into human rights abuses and another assessing the humanitarian situation, continued their work in Darfur, Sudan today.
The humanitarian mission, headed by World Food Programme Executive Director James Morris, has met with the governor in El Fasher, North Darfur.
And today, the humanitarian team will split into two to visit various areas of concern in North Darfur and will also meet with the International Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement and non-governmental organizations.
The second part of the team, headed by the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Humanitarian Affairs in the Sudan, Tom Vraalsen, met with the governor of South Darfur.
UN humanitarian agencies are stepping up their efforts to meet the health needs of people affected by last week’s massive blast in Ryongchon, in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that medical supplies such as eye treatments, topical creams, compresses for burns and certain antibiotics remain in short supply. One WHO team, which visited four hospitals in the area four days ago, says that an estimated two thirds of the injured they saw are children.
The UN Children’s Fund, meanwhile, has delivered some 500 kilograms of therapeutic milk to a local hospital, for patients unable to eat solid food.
On Kosovo, the UN Mission in Kosovo reports that an investigation into the drowning of three Kosovo Albanian children –- which was said to have helped spark the March riots –- has concluded that there is no evidence to support the suspicion that any crime was committed.
However, should any further credible evidence be uncovered in the future, the investigation will be revived.
Investigations into the riots are continuing, and police have made more than 260 arrests. We have more information on that upstairs.
Also on Kosovo, in relation to the shooting incident in the Mitrovica Detention Centre earlier this month, the detention period of three of the four Jordanian police officers who had been held for questioning expires this Saturday.
The three are in custody on suspicion of refraining from providing help to the victims of the shooting.
The fourth officer, suspected of assisting in murder and grave bodily harm, remains in custody. The investigation into this matter is also continuing, and we have a press release on that.
Alvaro de Soto, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Cyprus, continues to pay farewell calls.
Earlier today, he met in Ankara with a number of senior Turkish officials, including Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and Under Secretary Ziyal.
He’s just arrived in Athens, where tomorrow he will meet with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis.
**Detained Asylum Seekers in US
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is drawing attention to the plight of tens of thousands of detained asylum seekers in the United States, including over 5,000 children per year.
UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie has visited detained asylum seekers at three facilities in the Arizona desert as part of her continuing efforts to give a voice to them.
One 12-year-old girl gave Jolie a tour of her room and dormitory area. Later that day, Jolie met the girl's mother at a separate facility. The two had not seen each other for two months, as they were caught at the border and detained in separate facilities. The girl's mother sobbed upon hearing that Jolie had met her daughter that morning and was relieved to hear that she was healthy and being well looked after.
Jean Arnault, head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan, today voiced shock at the brutal slaying of two Afghan employees of a non-governmental organization on Monday night in southern Kandahar. He strongly condemned yet another tragic and unacceptable act directed at the aid community in Afghanistan.
This and other recent attacks in Kandahar, he said, point to the need to make more forces available to the provincial authorities, so that they can uphold the law and facilitate reconstruction.
The UN Mission today noted that the temporary suspension in UN activity in Kandahar has now been lifted, with voter registration taking place. We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.
The UN refugee agency today called for renewed attention to the plight of more than 370,000 people displaced from their homes in Sri Lanka.
UNHCR Inspector General Dennis McNamara, who ended a two-week visit to the country, welcomed efforts to help the displaced Sri Lankans return home since a ceasefire between the Government and the Tamil Tigers took effect in February 2002.
He called for a renewed focus on dealing with such issues as the destruction of housing, the return of property to its rightful owners and the clearance of landmines.
**UNEP –Species Loss
The European Union won’t reach the goal of halting species loss by 2010 if it doesn’t do more to prevent the decline of its most nature-rich areas of farmland.
That warning comes from a joint report by the European Environment Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme. We have more on that upstairs.
**IAEA Nukes Mosquitoes
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is supporting the world’s fight against malaria by targeting the mosquito that transmits the disease.
In coordination with the Food and Agriculture Organization, IAEA scientists are applying a radiation-based method to control the malaria mosquito.
Up to 500 million cases of malaria are diagnosed each year. The global aim is to cut this figure in half by the end of this decade. We have a press release on that.
**Security Council - Consultations
I just have a note here that the Security Councilpresidency has just informed us that consultations on Haiti, which were scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. today, have now been rescheduled for tomorrow morning.
**Press conferences - Today
Press conferences, at 3 p.m. today the United Nations Development Programme will be sponsoring a press conference by Leonard Good, the CEO and Chairman of the Global Environment Facility, who will talk about the protection of global water resources.
**Press conferences – Tomorrow
Then at 11:15 a.m. tomorrow, Shashi Tharoor, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, will be here to talk to you about the “Top Ten Stories the World Should Hear More About”.
And then at 1:15 p.m., Børge Brende, the Chairman of the Commission on Sustainable Development, will give a wrap-up press briefing on the outcome of the Commission’s twelfth session.
And then later in the afternoon at 3:30 p.m., the French Minister for Ecology and Sustainable Development, Serge Lepeltier, will be here to brief you.
**Guest at noon – Tomorrow
And our guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing will be Kalman Mizsei, Director of the UN Development Programme’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. And he will be here to talk about the expansion of the European Union and its implications for development in the region.
That’s all I have for you. Stu?
**Questions and Answers
Question: You mentioned Haiti before, and as we know, the UN is in the process of getting a long-term military force to go to Haiti -- I guess the end of next month or beginning of June. Question is, there have been allegations in the past that perhaps some of the troops that have been offered by countries are perhaps not very professional. In some cases, there have been allegations that civilians may have been offered, or some cases convicts may have been offered and sent to the UN for peacekeeping with military observation affairs. What does the UN do, or can they do anything to verify the credentials of military personnel being offered for peacekeeping operations or for military observations missions?
Spokesman: When it comes to formed units of military, such as you are mentioning now, we rely on the donor country to give us professional soldiers. Individuals who commit crimes or otherwise misbehave are subject to disciplinary action by their home governments. But they are sent out of the mission area and sent home to be disciplined. So, the answer to your question is there is not a quality test, and units vary in the degree of their training from country to country, and even from unit to unit within a country. But I think on the whole, we have been satisfied with quality of soldiers that we have gotten over the years, although we have had the kinds of problems that you alluded to going back 10 or 12 years. I think it was Cambodia where we had particular problems.
Question: Were any corrective actions taken after Cambodia? Is there anything internally to make sure that incidents like Cambodia don’t reoccur in the future?
Spokesman: Well, other than formed troops, when you get into the area of civilian police, there is a rather rigorous training programme and evaluation programme. And countries who send us police without basic skills –- driving skills, for example, language skills -– they’re sent home immediately. Yes, Bill?
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any response to the airing of pictures of United States soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners on CBS last night and the report of abuse?
Spokesman: I have no specific reaction to that programme, but the kinds of things discussed there, the abuse of prisoners, could be the kind of thing that would be investigated or would be included in a report on human rights in Iraq that the acting High Commissioner for Human Rights said last Friday he intended to produce. We did speak to them this morning, they have no more specifics how that report would be compiled, whether they would try to go to Iraq in connection with the writing of the report. So, we will stay in touch with the High Commissioner’s Office on that subject.
Question: And the timing of it? When will it be completed?
Spokesman: The report? No, they really are at the very preliminary stages of the planning. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: On Western Sahara, you indicated that the Council adopted the resolution extending the mandate for six months. Did the Secretary-General recommend a 10-month extension?
Spokesman: He did and they gave us six.
Question: Usually, the Council adopts the recommendation of (Inaudible)... told me the Secretary-General can send ...
Spokesman: No. Not always. Not always. The six months has been pretty much the standard since, I think since the mid 1990s. In the earlier days, with simpler, less expensive peacekeeping missions, we usually tried to get a year minimum. But when peacekeeping exploded in the 1990s, I think the Security Council retreated to this six-month extension, which is, I think by now, pretty standard. Bill?
Question: Has the Secretary-General formally responded to the letter he received from the Fallujah civic leaders asking for intervention in the situation there?
Spokesman: I am not aware that he has. He did mention in his press conference that in response to that letter, he contacted the US authorities and advised caution regarding the civilian population. But I don’t know whether the letter itself has been answered. All letters do get answered eventually. I’ll have to find out for you if this one has been answered yet. Yes, David?
Question: Fred, albeit a vacant facility, is it the assessment of the UN that the Organization was being targeted earlier this week in Damascus, if not physically but symbolically?
Spokesman: I don’t think we know enough about the details of that incident. The building that was hit had housed the headquarters unit of the peacekeeping mission in the Golan Heights. But I think that’s something like 10 years ago. So, it hasn’t been a UN building for 10 years. I understand that a water tank on top of the building or something had a UN logo. Whether it symbolically was a UN building or not, and might then have been a target because it had once been a UN building, we just don’t know. But we don’t have enough details about what actually happened there. And we don’t today suspect that we were the target. Bill?
Question: Is Carina Perelli back in New York?
Question: Could she possibly be made available to speak to us?
Spokesman: We’re working on that. We’re trying to line her up for the noon briefing in the next several days. I think she has agreed. I’d have to double check with my staff after the briefing, but I think she’s agreed to talk to you.
Okay. Mr. Kothari, why don’t you take the podium here?
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